What Ancient Civilization Lived in Chile?

Located in South America, Chile is a country with a rich cultural heritage. The land has been inhabited by various indigenous groups for thousands of years. Among the most prominent of these ancient civilizations are the Mapuche, Aymara, and Inca peoples.

The Mapuche Civilization

The Mapuche people were one of the largest and most significant indigenous groups in Chile. They occupied the central and southern regions of the country for thousands of years before the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. The Mapuche were skilled farmers and warriors who fiercely defended their land against foreign invaders.

Fun Fact: The name “Mapuche” means “people of the earth.”

Social Structure

The Mapuche society was organized into clans, with each clan having its own chief or lonko. These chiefs were responsible for maintaining order within their respective communities and representing their people in regional councils.


Agriculture was the primary source of livelihood for the Mapuche. They cultivated crops such as maize, potatoes, beans, quinoa, and pumpkins. They also raised livestock such as llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs.

  • The Mapuche used irrigation systems to water their crops.
  • They also practiced hunting and fishing to supplement their diet.
  • Trade played an important role in their economy, with goods being exchanged between different clans.

Religion and Beliefs

The Mapuche had a rich spiritual tradition that included a belief in a supreme being known as Ngenechen. They also believed that everything in nature had a spirit or soul.

Fun Fact: The Mapuche believed that dreams were a way for Ngenechen to communicate with them.

The Aymara Civilization

The Aymara people were another important indigenous group in Chile. They lived in the northern regions of the country and parts of Bolivia and Peru. The Aymara civilization is believed to have existed for over 2,000 years.

The Aymara society was organized into ayllus, which were extended family groups. These ayllus were responsible for their own governance and had their own leaders.

Fun Fact: In Aymara culture, age is measured differently than in Western culture. Instead of counting birthdays, they count the number of harvests a person has seen.

The Aymara were skilled farmers who cultivated crops such as potatoes, maize, quinoa, and beans. They also raised llamas and alpacas for their wool and meat.

  • The Aymara developed a system of terraced agriculture to farm on mountainous terrain.
  • They also practiced trade with other indigenous groups.

The Aymara had a complex religious system that included a belief in multiple gods and goddesses. They also believed that natural phenomena such as thunderstorms and earthquakes were caused by supernatural forces.

The Inca Civilization

Although the Inca civilization is most commonly associated with Peru, they also had a significant presence in what is now northern Chile. The Inca established their empire in the 13th century and ruled until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

The Inca society was highly structured, with the emperor at the top of the hierarchy. Below him were nobles, commoners, and slaves.

The Inca were skilled farmers who developed advanced agricultural techniques such as terrace farming, irrigation systems, and crop rotation.

  • The Inca established an extensive road system throughout their empire to facilitate trade and communication.
  • They also used a barter system for trade, with goods such as gold, silver, and textiles being exchanged.

The Inca had a complex religious system that included a belief in multiple gods and goddesses. They also believed that their emperor was descended from the sun god Inti. The Inca practiced human sacrifice as part of their religious rituals.

Conclusion: Chile has a rich cultural heritage that includes numerous ancient civilizations. The Mapuche, Aymara, and Inca peoples were among the most significant of these civilizations. Each of these groups had their own unique social structures, economies, and religious beliefs that contributed to the rich tapestry of Chilean culture.